Texas: Using assessment data and personalized supports to accelerate learning
Policy built using outcome data can help the more than 2.6 million students who failed the statewide STAAR®exam in 2021, according to Texas Education Agency (TEA) data. But these Texas students can still get back on track through targeted interventions that rely on outcome data. HB 4545, a new state law, promises targeted interventions for the students who did not pass. Using outcome data, like STAAR results, helps to direct and refine policy where support is most needed.
Like all states, Texas suspended statewide assessments in spring 2020 because of the pandemic. However, Texas was one of a handful of states that administered an annual summative exam in 2021 with near normal participation and conditions, which meant that Texas policymakers had access to reliable data to help understand the extent of pandemic-related learning loss.
As a result, legislators passed HB 4545 to provide specific, targeted support to students who failed the STAAR in 2021. Under this law, students who didn’t meet grade-level expectations must be assigned a highly rated teacher or offered tutoring before or after school to help them catch up. The intervention plan and progress checks are monitored by a committee that includes the student’s parent or guardian in addition to the principal and a teacher. This policy directly connects summative exam data to targeted intervention for students.
Texas has a longstanding record of using state assessment data to inform policy and resource decisions. Maintaining the STAAR exam will help Texas align public resources to ensure that more students recover from the pandemic disruptions and graduate prepared for successful lives.
Data from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) program highlight significant learning loss:
- In 28 out of 30 STAAR exams administered, the percentage of students approaching, meeting, and mastering proficiency declined across all grades from spring 2019 to spring 2021.
- From 2019 to 2021, fourth grade math proficiency dropped to 35% from 46%.
- From 2019 to 2021, eighth grade reading proficiency dropped to 45% from 53%.
How it can happen
To better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on K-12 students, state leadership should partner with stakeholders who are committed to maintaining a strong accountability system – including parents – to build awareness of how STAAR data can drive policy. Leaders should continue to analyze STAAR assessment data to identify areas where targeted student supports are needed and bolster existing policy opportunities to direct resources where need is greatest. These efforts should be studied so that improvements can be made over time. A sustained commitment will be important to ensure that students are supported throughout and past the pandemic with these kinds of targeted interventions and to ensure that any learning loss isn’t exacerbated by a lack of alignment by leadership. To ensure this strategic alignment is achieved, leaders and advocacy groups will need to remain in communication with their shared goal in mind. Stakeholder engagement will be another critical component of accelerating learning, especially to distribute and align shared resources for students.
Advocates across the state are working to bolster the K-12 accountability system, maintain strong standards, and improve the value and quality of assessments.
Thanks to the robust STAAR reporting system, educators and families are able to analyze detailed data down to each question mapped to state standards. This allows for the customization of supports for student recovery. Of course, the analysis alone is not enough. Action and resources based on that analysis are needed to accelerate student learning through pandemic recovery.
The Texas Education Agency created accelerated learning resources to help districts comply with HB 4545, which requires, among other things, an individual learning plan for any student that failed or didn’t take the STAAR test. TEA provided sample learning plans with examples in English and Spanish to aid district implementation. In addition, students who didn’t meet grade level are required to have access to high quality teachers and tutoring.
Student recovery from COVID-19 disruptions is a long-term effort. It’s more important than ever to continue annual testing, as gaps in the data leave parents, policymakers, and educators flying blind as they work to help students recover from interruptions to their learning. Current assessment data can be analyzed to see where supports are needed. Texas should continue monitoring implementation of policies like those outlined in HB 4545 that seek to target resources and programs to mitigate learning loss. Data about implementation should be analyzed and used to inform improvements.
State leaders should collaborate to implement HB 4545, providing targeted resources to mitigate learning loss, using data to identify where support is most needed. For example, several districts have indicated they’re struggling to hire needed tutors. This is an area for follow-up policy to accelerate implementation.
State leaders should share the successes broadly, emphasizing strong implementation, and student improvement on STAAR. Leaders should also emphasize the need to study the impacts of state policies and supports, analyze results, and push for updates as relevant.
State leadership should seek to build momentum with a coalition of stakeholders to maintain and grow support for the reporting data and targeted interventions to implement HB 4545 with fidelity across the state, with a particular focus on parents and families.
Why it matters
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a difficult burden on teachers, parents, and students. Students’ struggles have been increasingly reflected in declining assessment scores and growing learning loss. However, interventions to accelerate learning can’t be accurately identified without continued administration of state assessments.
Students won’t just catch up naturally over time. Their future success depends greatly on how we prepare them for the next steps while in the K-12 system. The Texas economy is growing rapidly, and most jobs today and in the future will require a credential beyond a high school diploma.
Just 32% of current Texas high school graduates earn a credential beyond high school within six years of graduation, according to the Tarrant to and Through Initiative, which aims to ensure more Tarrant County students have the skills they need to thrive in the workforce. Further, Texas 2036 data show Texas students aren’t on track to meet the future needs of the labor force. At the same time, Texas businesses are trying to address the gap in employment rates between people of color and their White counterparts, according to the Dallas Regional Chamber.
As in many states, there are efforts underway in Texas to stop the administration of state exams. Stopping measurement doesn’t erase gaps facing young people. Summative assessments like STAAR, when used to craft targeted policies like HB 4545, allow for smart intervention and use of public funds to help students succeed.